Reviews in this issue:
Landmarq - Solitary Witness
Tracklist: Killing Fields (4:53), Forever Young (8:53), April First (4:54), Foxing The Fox (4:26), Terracotta Army (6:37), Freefall (3:34), Tippi Hedren (7:42), After I Died Somewhere (3:34), Suite: St. Helens (i Release, ii Reprieve, iii Rebirth, iv Reprise) (9:51), Borders (4:59)
Bonus track: Suite: St. Helens (alternate version) (5:26)
It took a long time, but since the demise of the band's original label SI Music, the first two Landmarq albums are available on CD again, on Cyclops this time. As they couldn't have not done it, they added two bonus tracks: the tracks that were released on compilation albums and were very hard to get.
Hearing the first album again this way (for a review, I mean), it shows how the band was growing towards a sound of their own, but already with remarkable debut. All musicians had a lot of experience already before they joined forces, so this is not a surprise.
Without playing very heavy music, they managed to make an exciting album. It's the good sense of melody and songwriting of each musician. It's that mix of great, exciting melodies with the honest heart with which the music is composed and played that made Landmarq as popular as they are. The chorus riffs on Foxing The Fox, for example, or the verses of Terracotta Army. The building of tension and atmosphere, with all musicians adding to the total sound. Or the great solo melody lines in Freefall, Suite: St. Helens, or the instrumental intro and middle piece of Tippi Hedren - great sounds!
Alternating moods are in the form of happier instrumentals like April First or a sad theme like After I Died Somewhere (theme: the acronym of that title). Again it's guitarist Uwe d'Röse showing his mastership in guitar solos. Not unimportant is the voice of Damian Wilson gracing these two albums. A wonderful, personal voice, that suits the music very well.
The bonus track on this first album, an alternative version of Suite: St. Helens, is special in the sense it contains vocals by Rob Lewis-Jones. His voice is good, though not as good as Damian's, but more importantly, his voice didn't fit as well. Strange though, that I can't find his name anywhere in the booklet, other than in the 'thank you' list. Maybe it has to do with the other typos in the booklet and on the cover and press info sheet, which is a pity for important re-issues like this.
A mistake that's probably made in the pressing plant is that my review copy of Infinity Parade contained something I think is the soundtrack to a movie called Judge Dredd ! Is this a rarity now? ;-)
Not being overly complex, this first Landmarq album is possibly not regarded as very progressive by definition, but they do have a unique blend of great songwriting and melodic playing, and with the honest music making and no forced sound experimenting, that makes this band as unique as they are.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Jethro Tull - Stand Up (+Bonus)
The first three Jethro Tull albums have recently been remastered and released with extra bonus tracks and new CD inlays which include a page adapted from the original record sleeve, plus another short narrative by Ian Anderson reminiscing about the history of each album.
Following the departure of lead guitarist Mick Abrahams (who went on to form Blodwyn Pig), Jethro Tull faced recording their 'difficult' second album with a new guitarist (Martin Barre). The result is Stand Up - the first step in moving from the more traditional blues style of This Was towards the unique progressive sound which served them so well throughout the seventies. This album is still heavily blues-influenced, but Ian Anderson's writing talent was starting to blossom, and there are some real gems in this collection, many of which are still regulars in the band's live set.
A New Day Yesterday starts the collection with the most 'bluesy' of the songs here. Glen Cornick's bass riff pushes the whole thing along at a good pace, whilst Clive Bunker's tumbling drums keep the track from becoming yet another blues dirge. About halfway through the track, we have a short guitar solo as a taster of what the future holds for the new guitarist, then a longer flute solo. A good blues song, then, but not a great Tull song - it's as if they're saying "Right, that should keep the blues fans happy, now let's get down to the new stuff..."
There is a much lighter tone for Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square - bongos, gentle guitars and flute doodlings are the order of the day here. Short at just over 2 minutes long, this is probably most memorable for Anderson's pronunciation of 'Leicester' as 'Leester' rather than 'Lester'.
Bouree is a true Tull classic. Based on a piece by Bach, this starts off with a simple bass/flute melody, then the drums kick in as the flute takes off - Anderson letting loose with the style which would become one of his trademarks - grunting and whooping into the flute in a way guaranteed to make classical flutists run and hide. A brief bass solo at the half-way point is then followed by a return to the quieter melody from the start, before a final flourish with the flute.
Back To The Family is a short tale of 'the grass is always greener' - it switches between a light chatty tempo as the narrator considers the benefits of being elsewhere (either at home with the family or off in the city) and a heavy drums/bass/distorted guitar section when he realises that he was better where he was before.
A gentle mood lasts throughout Look Into The Sun, which is backed by very subtle bass and acoustic guitars, with occasional jazz-style electric accents. Not a drum to be found. It conjures up images of hazy summer days in the sixties.
Nothing Is Easy starts with a breathless flute introduction leading to a up-beat blues number backed by echo-laden guitar phrases. A minute into the song, and Barre and Anderson are trading licks with each other, showing that the flute can be just as effective in a rock context as guitar in the right hands. Another verse then a short round of solos before the band slowly build into a crescendo at the end.
Fat Man is not exactly politically correct, but who can resist a line like "Roll us both down a mountain and I'm sure the Fat Man would win"? This is a bit like a camp-fire song - bongos, tambourine, mandolins and flute back the lyrics which describe the drawbacks of being over-weight. Perhaps not classic Tull, but it certainly shows the light-hearted side which is part of their charm - this song always makes me smile.
Hotel California comes next, well actually We Used To Know, but Tull toured the USA supported by the Eagles at some point after this album, and shortly thereafter their own money-spinner was released. Can you tell the difference? Well, the Tull song has a bitter-sweet lyric of remembering the 'bad old days', and it has a soaring flute/guitar instrumental which never fails to send shivers down my spine. It doesn't have a catchy chorus, though, but with two superb guitar solos, who needs it?
Reasons For Waiting is more upbeat in contrast. Jangling guitars and light organ pads back a simple love song, which occasionally picks up a string section and could quite happily form background music to a holiday advert.
For A Thousand Mothers is similar in tone to Back To The Family - quite an aggressive bass/drum backing and presented from the point of view of an angry narrator - telling his family that he succeeded despite their doubts. The track fades out over an insistent band instrumental with each instrument fighting for its place in the mix.
Living In The Past is the first of the four bonus tracks on this disc. Probably the nearest the band ever got to the top of the singles chart, and with a 5/4 time signature to boot! The value of these bonus tracks (apart from 17) is diminished somewhat by them being available already on the Living In The Past album, however, they do come from the same period as this album, so they're not completely out of place here. Although this was the song which introduced me to Tull (thanks to Midge Ure's cover version), I have never really been too keen on it. Despite the catchy tune (or perhaps because of it?) I have always found it to be a bit out of place in the repetoire - it doesn't seem to fit with either the heavy or the quirky acoustic sides of the band.
Driving Song is a fairly plodding blues number - not actually bad as such, but it felt like filler material on the Living In The Past album (which was a bit of a mixed bag anyway), and adds nothing to this disc apart from a sense of completeness, perhaps.
Sweet Dream is another track which never quite feels like Tull - more like something by The Damned, but it is still a fine song - I love the little acoustic guitar flourish before each chorus starts. Strings and brass sections join in before the song fades out.
17 has only been available on CD before on the excellent 20th Anniversary box set, so this is an opportunity for those who missed out on that set to pick up a copy of this track. This is almost a pop song - certainly more so than Living In The Past - and feels as though it is from a different era - it would probably fit comfortably on Too Old To Rock And Roll - Too Young To Die, or date back to the John Evan Band era. It changes the dynamics of the disc from the original album - now it finishes on an upbeat number, rather than the somewhat heavier For A Thousand Mothers. The song was edited for space to get it onto the box set, so it seems a missed opportunity that the same edited version is presented here, rather than the full track.
In summary, this has been carefully restored - the instrumentation is clear and crisp - certainly a vast improvement on my old tape copy (although I don't have the earlier CD edition to do a direct comparison). Anderson's vocal on most tracks is heavily effected and kept relatively far back in the mix - I think was was an issue with his own confidence in his voice on the earlier albums - but it gives the album a unique colour which draws the different songs together. This is an essential purchase for a Tull fan, and recommended if you like your prog with a touch of the blues. It's not a Tull classic in the same league as Aqualung, A Passion Play or Songs From The Wood, but was an important stage in the development of the band's style.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tanger - La Otra Cara
Much of the material that I have reviewed over the last year, has originated from Europe or the USA, so it makes a pleasant change to look at the music of Tanger, a four piece instrumental band from Argentina. One of three contrasting albums, from Viajero Inmovil Records, a record label who are investing in music from their own country, and showing a diversity of styles within these three releases from 2002.
A slightly unusual line-up to Tanger, with Luis Colucci [fretted and fretless bass guitar, sampler and synthesizers], Julian De Ambrosia [drums and percussion], Damian Lois [flute and saxophone] and Ignacio Lois [electric and acoustic guitars]. The lack of any major keyboard instrumentation gives the band an airy quality and allows a freedom for their more expressive and improvisational style of music. Mixing elements from an early Canterbury style, with its distinct jazz overtones, and combining at times with Latin rhythms, gives an interesting blend. The tracks are surprisingly short, ranging from just over two minutes to just over five minutes, which lends a conciseness to the proceedings and therefore keeps the balance closer to prog than jazz.
This is the second release from Tanger, and follows their eponymous titled 1999 album. The band line-up is unchanged, with the exception of Damian Lois, who takes over the role as flautist. All the musicians have a high degree of competence, which is evident in the complexity of the arrangements. The expressive flute work from Damian might draw some comparisons to Ian Anderson, however one should not look for any Tull like material here, but perhaps look to some of Thijs van Leer's jazzier notation for a more accurate picture. Again the production on the CD, with its distinctly early 70's sound would again lead us towards Focus, albeit without the keyboards and a predilection towards the jazzier side.
There was a distinct harshness to much of the distorted guitar "riff" notation, most notable when played with the saxophone. However combined with the flute, a more pleasant contrast was obtained and the two instruments blended well with the tight rhythm section. Highlights for me were the melancholic opening track Zobeida, the gently percussive Chacales, with worthy note for Ignacio Lois' tasteful guitar work and finally the title tune La Otra Cara. A track that grooves along with the drums and bass working in empathy with the lead instruments.
From the opening bars to the closing phrases, there is a sense of total commitment from the band, four guys who are passionate about their music and play every note with conviction. Sure, the production is not marvellous, however this does add to the "live" atmosphere that prevails throughout the album. This in many respects made the music comfortable and familiar, and sat with the headphones on in a darkened room, you could almost see these guys playing in a small room or club, just check out Evocacion. A pleasant change!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Las Orejas Y La Lengua -
La Eminencia Inobjectable
Some music falls into certain niches or genres, some defy definition or openly challenge you to place it within a category. This is the case with the new album from Las Orejas Y La Lengua (and for the purposes of this review, to be shortened to LOYLL). I doubt that the band will be troubled by this opening remark as La Eminencia Inobjectable is an album that is determined to be thought-provoking. It certainly wasn't designed as "chill-out" music. It would be so easy to dismiss this album out of hand, and on the first initial listening, I was tempted to do so. However the encompassed pieces and musicianship are worthy of deeper analysis.
LOYLL are an Argentinean quintet, who boast an extensive range of musical instruments, either played by themselves or by the large supporting cast of guest musicians. Although it should be noted that much of the music centres on the keyboards, flute, guitars, drums and percussion. Along with these aforementioned array of instruments is the inclusion of samplers and sequencers. As hinted at above this is a difficult music to quantize, as the pieces are so varied, ranging from structured to avant-garde, with moments of inspiration followed by total cacophony. The sublime to the ridiculous and much of the trouble with La Eminencia Inobjectable is that it is difficult to decide whether it is brilliant, or not! We must look to people like Frank Zappa for some clues as to the eccentric nature of LOYLL's music, with possibly Henry Cow supplying the more freeform and experimental parts.
The album did contain several tracks that were certainly more accessible, with more discernable melodies and rhythms, although the eccentricity rarely left the music. Tracks worthy of note were the opening piece, Asi suenan tus ojos which opens melodically enough, and an appreciation for Nicolas Diab's sparse but effective bass playing in this ever twisting and turning track. The longest piece from the album, Irremediable muerte del Sr. Sandoval y su chica la sodomita, must be included because it has nearly all the elements rolled into one track. Finally, Fugaz en la Ciudad Antigua with its hypnotic, acoustic guitar and mandolin notation providing one of the more melodic moments from the album - a gently weaving piece.
Despite my best efforts I just could not get into this album and I did return to it on many occasions. There are many good moments to be found on La Eminencia Inobjectable, however the album did not flow for me, and consequently this made listening difficult. Simple truth of the matter is that it was just too experimental and avant-garde for my tastes.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Hyacintus - Elydian
The tale of Elydian is set in the VIII century and recounts the story of the life of Dulbeck, a peasant, growing up in a tyrannous land. In his early youth he returns to his village, after playing with his friends, to find his family and friends massacred, save only his brother and the returning friends. The survivors travel to Elydian to muster an army to rid the land of it's oppressors. Although victorious in battle and defeating the might of Arold's armies, the day is tinged with sadness as our hero dies in his true love's arms. This is the stuff of legend and similar tales have been told throughout history, this one, an adaptation from the writings of Theo Sperzeld.
The musical adaptation of this also follows in the traditions of classical, symphonic rock, eliciting not only from the classical masters, as it does, but from those exponents of this modern day form. The treatment, although all instrumental here, is reminiscent of this type of project, with Rick Wakeman's, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round the Table, being the most obvious choice. Unlike Wakeman, however, Corral chooses to use the guitar as the principal solo instrument - both electric and classical.
Hyacintus is fundamentally the work of composer and multi-instrumentalist Jacinto Corral [guitars, piano, keyboards, cello, viola, midi drums and percussion], who is ably supported on various tracks by Ed Martinez [drums and programming], Victor Sanchez [percussion and chorus] and Ariel Sanchez [clarinet on track 2]. The album runs almost as a continuous piece, thus strengthening the concept notion, and although the music leans heavily towards the progressive side, there are areas that draw from other musics - as with the bluesy Growing up with his Secret. Bringing to mind one of the notable aspects of the album, Corral's change of styles, aptly depicting the ever evolving story line and constructed in a series of Acts that conjure up what might be a visual adaptation.
Musically, as mentioned the album falls well into the symphonic boundaries, drawing from the great orchestral composers, Beethoven and Vivaldi being the most obvious, but from artists such as Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield and XII Alfonso. Supporting this classical symphonic notion is that, Elydian appears to be written almost as a piece for orchestra with band and one wonders what the album might sound like with the finances to undertake this project. However this does bring me to one of the slight drawbacks of Elydian, and the lack of a drummer. I have never been fully convinced by drum machines, however good the sounds or the programmer. On top of this, progressive rock adds further problems, mainly due to the complexity of the parts - sometimes close but never quite all there. Having said this, this does not detract greatly from the music here. Again, throughout the album the recapitulation of the main theme, with slight variations in the instrumentation or the delivery, re-emphasize the classical essence.
Much of the music is constructed around the muti-layered guitar sections, which form the mainstay of the solo instrumentation and tiered over a rich tapestry of string passages - illustrations of these can be found in the gently rippling classical guitar track Prelude or the notionally Khachaturian-esque Owerlag. When this is combined with the cello, viola and the well chosen orchestral sounds, much warmth is added to the synthesized strings - again Corral's understanding of string arrangements is evident. The melancholic Pains of the Soul being an excellent example. Perhaps note here, so as not to give the wrong impression, that along with the symphonic elements to the music is the inclusion of definite rock and progressive rock influences.
The Elydian album showed yet another side to the music being produced from within the prog-rock umbrella and emerging from Argentina. On this ocassion, a CD of anthemic pieces, distinctly classical and orchestral in nature and one which well depicted the medieval storyline. The overall flow of Elydian worked well and although there were a few lulls in the music, as a whole, a convincing conceptual album. All in all, well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10